Five things I learnt in Malawi about ending violence against women

As part of this year's GOLD (Guiding Overseas Linked with Development) project, Alice Coomer and her team had the chance to work with the Malawi Girl Guide Association (MAGGA) and hear all about their work on ending violence against girls and young women

Alice Coomer
07 October 2015

Let me tell you something about violence against women

  • One in three women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence
  • 4.5 million people are victims of forced sexual exploitation, 98% of whom are women and girls
  • 700 million women alive today are married before they are 18.

It is happening all the time, all over the world, and it needs to stop. Here are five things I have learnt from MAGGA about how we can work together to end violence against women once and for all:

1.Teach girls to stand up for themselves

Guiding all over the world is about developing ourselves individually and as a team, to be a credit to ourselves and to our community. In the UK, we develop our teamwork skills going on camps and working in patrols and sixes to complete challenges. In Malawi, girls of all ages are taught self-defence and strength exercises. Every group of girls we met on our GOLD project, whether they were 5, 15 or 25, had some self-defence moves to teach us.

2.Tell girls of all ages to 'stop the violence'

We were lucky enough to be invited to the 2015 MAGGA Annual General Meeting (AGM), themed 'Let us unite to end violence against women'. There were girls in attendance from all over the country from the youngest to the most senior of members.

Over and over again the girls chanted 'Stop the violence against me'. Girls took to the stage to tell the world to stop hurting people, stop marrying off young girls and let them enjoy their education and childhood.

3. Enlist the help of others to support your cause

Now comes our GOLD Teams involvement in the campaign. We were the sixth team to go to Malawi and before we went we had discussed project aims that included building leadership, teamwork and advocacy skills. But MAGGA specifically asked us to spend some time training the girls on violence against women.

We talked about what makes an abusive relationship, why early marriage is a bad thing and, most importantly, who to talk to for support. The girls had some interesting thoughts on what some of the problems are with violence against women in Malawi and enjoyed building-up their self-confidence, using some activities from the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts' (WAGGGS) 'Free Being Me' resource.

4. Help girls to become independent

One way we can help girls to stand up to violence against women, is to teach them the skills to be independent. For example, Gertrude, MAGGA's Commissioner for the southern region, teaches girls how to make their own reusable sanitary towels.

Access to sanitary products in countries like Malawi is very limited. Even for those women who can get to a shop that stocks suitable products, they are often too expensive for them. Gertrude's project gives girls the chance to stay in control of their health and therefore remain in education and develop their independence.

5. Make your voice heard

During the three weeks we were on project in Malawi, we saw three articles in the national paper featuring MAGGA members talking about ending violence against women.

At the AGM we attended, the guest of honour was an MP from the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare who listened to all that the girls and leaders had to say. She then gave a rallying speech asking us to unite to end violence against women.

MAGGA are truly getting their voices heard, find out more about how you can get involved through the WAGGGS' Stop the Violence campaign.

During our GOLD project in Malawi, we worked with people from all walks of life. It was quite a culture shock for us to see the day-to-day life of a child in Malawi and the burdens so many of them have at such a young age. But, there was one message that rang out wherever we travelled, whoever we spoke to and whatever we did: MAGGA is taking a stand to end violence against women and it is making a difference to girls everywhere.

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